Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cardinal Wuerl to GW Catholics: "you bring hope"

Cardinal Wuerl encourages GW students to wear the cross proudly

By Mark Zimmermann
Catholic Standard
At the Sunday evening Mass on Sept. 14 for George Washington University students, Father Greg Shaffer - the chaplain at the Newman Center there - had a confession to make.

"We don't always have Cardinal Wuerl and Chipotle!" he said, referring to the archbishop of Washington who celebrated the Mass at St. Stephen Martyr Parish, and to the free burritos downstairs at the reception afterward.

The cardinal, who earlier had smiled as he harkened back to the free pizza offered during his first visit to the campus community, thanked the more than 200 students for attending the Mass. "It's always a pleasure and joy to come to this Mass, and see all of you who are here. It means so much, the hope you bring."

During his homily, Cardinal Wuerl noted that Mass commemorated the Exaltation or Triumph of the Cross, and he pointed how displaying the cross on the wall of your room, or wearing it on a necklace, or even making the sign of the cross before meals, offer an important witness of faith in Jesus, who died on the cross and then rose to new life.

"Crosses are a sign of our commitment to Christ," he said. "...We have that sign of God's love for us."

Making the sign of the cross at the dinner table or at a restaurant is a small gesture, but it says a lot, the cardinal added. "(We) remind ourselves and others, that we're proud of who we are, as disciples of Jesus. He calls us to walk with him."

The cardinal noted how Pope Francis has emphasized God's love and mercy. "All of us stand in need of God's love, and stand in need of God's mercy and forgiveness, and it's always there."

Cardinal Wuerl said the cross is also a reminder that "we're supposed to share the Good News with others." The cardinal noted that Jesus taught his disciples that "you're loved by God, and you have the opportunity to share that love with others."

Father Shaffer later said that while free food might attract some students to the Newman Center, "once they're here, they encounter Christ. Our evangelization method is, whatever it takes to get them in the doors." After Communion, he reminded students that the GW Newman Center was sponsoring a combination white water rafting trip and freshmen retreat for the next weekend.

At the GW Newman Center, the priest is assisted by three FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries, who evangelize on campus and help lead Bible studies and discussion groups there. On average, about 8-10 students become full members of the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil there, and in recent years, eight young men from George Washington University have entered the seminary, and one young woman is studying to become a nun.

The main reason that so many students attend Mass there is because other students invited them, Father Shaffer said. The Catholic students there, he said, "are apostles on campus. That's the most inspiring thing - they go out," he said.

Cardinal Wuerl sat at a table with six students, joining them for the free burritos after Mass. Afterward, one of the students, Ana Maguey - a native of Mexico City studying for her master's degree in international law - held the small crucifix she wore on her necklace. "The cardinal was reminding us, we should be proud to be Catholic," she said.

She also expressed gratitude for the community of faith and friends at the Newman Center. "It's like you have found your family, even though you are far from home," she said.

Another student who joined the cardinal at the table, Chichi Osuchukwu, said the cardinal's homily "hit home with me." The sophomore pre-med student from Virginia Beach said that her grandmother gave her a rosary, with its familiar beads connected to a small cross, that she carries in her pocket. "It's a reminder Christ is always with me," she said.

Lisa Campbell, a GW senior from Colorado Springs who is studying international business and marketing, said she also appreciated what the cardinal said about the cross. "It's a great message. Wearing the cross on campus is an outward sign of our faith," she said.

She also said that evangelizing - sharing the faith - is the main mission of the Newman Center. "College is hard. A good relationship with Christ makes it better," she said.

Philip Paulson, a freshman mechanical engineering student from Southern California, echoed that point. "It's good to be proud of your faith and show it, and get some kids who stray away to come back," he said.

The cardinal's message about the cross also resonated with Caroline Multerer, a junior from Buffalo studying international affairs. "It's important to wear that proudly (on campus), and make sure it's something you're embodying every day," she said. "It can be easy to waver in your faith. The sign of the cross is something very important to come back to."

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